Back in December I was excited to catch a little social media buzz about the 2015 Harlem Half Marathon. Being a Harlem resident and businessman, I was intrigued about ways that this could benefit both the Harlem community and the running community in general. Knowing what a challenge it is to secure the necessary permits to close streets, and the exorbitant cost associated with compensating the city, and on the heels of the Brooklyn Triathlon fiasco in which huge fees were to be charged for just a few miles of closures, I was surprised that such an event could happen. Still, we reached out to the race organizer in an effort to see how we could support the event, as well as to inquire about the possibility of running training programs in association with the program. At the time, we were dismayed to learn that the requisite permits had not only not been secured, but the race’s founder said that he hadn’t applied for said permits and was unaware of the costs of such things. That put an end to that. Or so we thought.
Earlier this week, I received an invitation to the race through my friend Will Sanchez, of Gotta Run With Will fame. Registration was opening and a September date was announced, along with an elaborate course that would start outside of the Apollo Theater and finish in Central Park. I was shocked, since 125th St is one of the busiest blocks in the city and shutting down the street, along with rerouting numerous bus lines would require a tremendous level of approvals, permits, and the like. And that doesn’t even take into account having to get the green light from the Central Park Conservancy.
I expressed my surprise and concern to Will, and we soon found out that despite the fact that registration was open, none of the required permits from the city had been approved, and there was no sanction from USATF, RRCA or any other running organization. Nonetheless, the race director was accepting entries and taking money. Communications continued, and I received several correspondences from concerned runners and former associates of the RD. There were past complaints about his previous business undertakings and personal finances. With all that taken into account, I publicly stated that I would not advocate any of my team or friends paying an entry until permits and sanctions were in place.
The race came to the attention of State Senator Bill Perkins. As both a runner and the senator whose district encompasses the race course, Senator Perkins was concerned. Yesterday, Will and I met with the Senator, along with the race director. Senator Perkins was dismayed (to say the least) that fees were being collected for a race that had no sign of taking place. He instructed the race director to refund all fees immediately, told him that such a practice was wrong and probably criminal, and to not consider putting on the race this year. Furthermore, he told the race director not to advertise or announce the race in the future until and unless all the permits and sanctions were in place first.
Some have suggested that the race director is a con man who was looking to fleece the running community. Some have suggested that he is merely naive to the ways of the running world. (The latter scenario doesn’t take into account that we informed him of the permitting process and other obstacles months ago, yet he chose to open registration anyway). Regardless, Senator Perkins took a firm and unequivocal stance, and there is every reason to assume that all entries will be refunded in a timely fashion. As Mr. Sanchez has pointed out, those who might have already bought airline tickets to come to the event (as at least one Facebook commenter seems to have done) are still out in the cold, but at this stage, all that can be done appears to have been done.
That the race director, who happens to be African American, has suggested that his critics, including yours truly, are attacking him because of the color of his skin, as opposed the fact that he was collecting money for a race that had no prayer of happening. Further he has stated that such criticism shows “how deep racism exists in the running community”. Such an attack on me (and the others who voiced concerns) ignores the legitimacy of our concerns. It ignores the fact that most of the people who stood to lose money were members of the African American community and many are my neighbors and friends. It ignores the fact that the Senator who shut him down is African American. It ignores that I have repeatedly stated how proud I am to be the coach of one of the most ethnically diverse teams in New York. It also ignores that my associate who originally spoke to him and advised me to distance myself from him is a woman of color who runs a legitimate, Harlem-based organization that helps members of this community become more active. And it further ignores that in this space, I have previously been very critical of NYRR (which is not exactly the new kid on the block or run by an African American), and that I have previously written about ways to increase diversity in triathlon, or that I was recently contacted by members of the triathlon business world who read those writings and asked for my assistance in growing the sport in the African American community. Incidentally, the aforementioned accusations of racism on my part have now been removed from the race director’s post, but they live in screen capture infamy and will not be forgotten.
As I told the race director at yesterday’s meeting, despite my taking offense to his comments, and despite my discomfort with his recent business practice, should this race ever come to fruition, I will happily support it. Until then, I’m just glad that the early registrants are receiving a refund and that any talk of the race is over for this season.
My sincere thanks to Will Sanchez for calling attention to this matter and for facilitating the meeting with the Senator, and to Senator Perkins for his swift and decisive action to help protect his constituents and the running community in general. Now I can go back to what I’m supposed to be doing, and that people can go back to hating me for legitimate rather than made up reasons.